Tall fescue is appropriate for a variety of conservation plantings, including soil conservation cover, contour buffer strips, herbaceous wind barriers, grassed waterways, critical area plantings, field borders, riparian buffer strips, and reclamation of disturbed land areas (see Chapter 27). The primary reasons cited for the utility of tall fescue for these purposes are its deep root system and the rapid, persistent vegetative cover it provides.
The extensive root system of tall fescue makes it very useful in water conservation and nutrient cycling. The primary roles of grasses in the hydrologic cycle are to slow runoff by enhancing infiltration via root channels and to improve water quality by filtering sediments. The massive root system of tall fescue penetrates deeply into the soil profile (Nelson, 1996). The uptake of nutrients by tall fescue protects water quality by reducing nutrient loads in streams and lakes. Decay of tall fescue plants gradually releases these nutrients to the soil so they can be used to support future grass growth.
In addition to its use for soil stabilization in numerous settings, tall fescue also is recognized as a useful plant for phytoremediation of toxic soil conditions. This includes remediation of soils with excess nutrients and those contaminated with high levels of heavy metals and petrochemicals. Because of the high productivity of tall fescue and the large land areas planted to this species, it is a potentially important species in helping diminish global warming through the sequestration of carbon in the roots and soils in grasslands. Finally, the suitability of tall fescue as wildlife habitat has been widely debated; its usefulness for this purpose varies depending on the wildlife species in question.